September 16, 2011
Biofuels Produced From Microwaved Garbage
Professor James Clark, of the Green Chemistry Center of Excellence at the University of York, announced a new technology recently that could help eliminate waste from the food supply chain. This waste will be converted, with the help of microwaves, into useful biomass derived chemicals, materials, and fuels.
The project dubbed the Orange Peel Exploitation Company (OPEC) is a partnership among researchers at the University of York, The University of Sao Pablo, Brazil, and the University of Cordoba, Spain.
Professor Clark said in a press release: “Wasted orange peel is an excellent example of a wasted resource. In Brazil, the world´s largest producer of orange juice, half the orange fruit is left as waste once the juice has been recovered. This corresponds to three million tons a year of orange peel that can be used to produce chemicals, materials and fuels.”
He explained to the BBC how the technology works, “You dice the peel, put it into a microwave field, focus that microwave, but at a much higher power. The microwaves activate the cellulose, triggering the release of a lot of chemicals.”
The University press release states that some of the chemicals targeted to be extracted from the waste materials include bio-ethanol, a renewable fuel for cars and trucks, d-limonene which is a widely used additive in home products and mesoporous carbons, which can be used in water purifiers.
According to Professor Clark, “The byproduct of the juicing industry therefore has the potential to provide a range of compounds, offering a more profitable and environmentally valuable alternative to current waste use practices. We are seeking to do this by harnessing the chemical potential of food supply chain waste using green chemical technologies and use nature´s own functionalities to obtain sought-after properties in everyday products.”
The BBC notes that the orange juice industry in Brazil may not provide the only viable stream of biomass waste. In Africa cassava production creates 228 million tons of unused starch, Europe accounts for three million tons of coffee grounds every year, and the UK produces much of its own waste from the leaves and stalks of cereals and farm crops.
Professor Clark plans to build a demonstration facility later in the year to test the concept and is expected to process up to 10 kg of waste per hour. On a commercial scale it would cost 1.5 million dollars to create a machine that would process six tons of food waste per hour.
The size of the facility could be limited, though, because of the amount of power and energy needed to produce the microwaves. But the OPEC partnership hopes the machines could be flexible in size, maybe even producing a machine available for domestic use.
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